Pest Webzine had the privilege of conducting a long and interesting interview with Ash, the man formerly known as Kanwulf, the ever controversial founding member and mentor of Nargaroth, in which many questions about Nargaroth were answered and some issues properly clarified! A mandatory read!
Hello Ash! It’s a pleasure to talk to you since you are a talented musician that had a huge impact on Black Metal! Let me begin by asking, why have you changed your nickname from Kanwulf to Ash?
I wanted to come off some things in my past. And as I developed over the years the name and image of Kanwulf didn’t fit anymore.
When will the fans have the pleasure of listening to a new album from Nargaroth? Are you already working on it? What can be expected?
I don’t know. The actual waves in Black Metal bothers me. People hailing bands that are totally crap in my eyes. I don’t waste my time like the zombies and slaves of nowadays’ "bands”.
When Nargaroth releases a new album it will be released via No Colours Records because you promised them you wouldn’t leave?
I stayed with NO COLOURS RECORDS all the time. I overcame big troubles with them because of their reputation, because I felt bond to the word I gave him back in 1999 when he helped me out of deep trouble. But over the past years, especially in 2011, I got more and more the impression, that he didn’t put enough energy into his label. To my eyes, in the last decade, he lost the grip to the changing label work. Aside that I felt he lost interest in the serious metal work. In a conversation he partly agreed with it. It's fair for me. I understand that there can come a time when you must reorganize your path and maybe you find out your old ways aren’t proper anymore for you. But you must be fair enough to tell it to the ones who depend on you, the bands who expect you to do a good job, to work in their interest. And in that case NO COLOURS RECORDS haven’t done the necessary. Almost all the big bands that were on NO COLOURS RECORDS left, cause they saw the limits of the label. I have accepted these problems for a long time. Problems with the quality of thr merchandise, the small international distribution of NARGAROTH’s releases and many more that I won't discuss here. So, after many years of conversations and promises to change from his side, and having only done small or no changes at all, I told him I couldn’t stay under his flag anymore. It's hard to act against my word, but I gave hom more than enough chances.. I will release further NARGAROTH releases on my own.
Have you received any offers from other labels interested in releasing Nargaroth's material?
Since the release of the "Black Metal ist Krieg” album, I've got offers from big international labels. But taking in consideration my promise made to NO COLOURS RECORDS in 1999 and my lack of interest, I refused all offers. Actually I am not looking for any label.
As an artist all your creations must be extremely important but which is the song that has more importance to you? The one that comes straight from your heart? The ones that touches you more deeply?
A Whisper Underneath The Bark Of Old Trees, Left Behind In Suicide and Amarok III.
Why are these songs the ones that touch you the most?
Because the source of the songs were intense feelings of pain and agony and their creation is, in parts, a relief.
Though you haven’t released anything new recently, you’ve been quite active live. How do you manage to keep people interested in your band?
You have banned your country from your concerts… why? Don’t you think you might have die-hard, real fans there that really wish to see you play live?
I haven’t played in Germany from 1999 to 2011. I was tired of their laziness. Germany is a small country and bullshit gets around faster than a phone talk. The German Scene in my time of absence was a miserable place in my eyes. I got many offers from around the world, so I played in all the other continents. Now I do play again here, but the chemistry between me and the Germans doesn’t always works. I guess we have too many issues.
Nargaroth played live in Portugal in 2005 at the Steel Warriors Rebellion Festival. What’s your opinion on my country?
I played at the SWR BARROSELAS METALFEST in 2005 I remember but I only saw the airport and the festival place...so my impressions are very limited. I just don’t like how the European Politicians treat Portugal, especially in the matter of the financial crisis. I think you people work as hard as every one else in Europe to get a good life.
In 2000/2001 you rejected the BM scene and recorded the demo "Fuck off Nowadays Black Metal”… but then you returned. What encouraged you to return in a time in which the scene seems to be even worse and more filled with hipsters and fakers? Do you think you can endure it this time around? What’s your opinion on 2013’s Black metal scene?
Black Metal is in my veins, in my mind and in my heart. The European tour in 2011 connected old friendships again and it healed some wounds in soul. I missed some of the bandits of the old times.
Nowadays BM is strange to me. I do not understand it well. The bands look all alike. All seem to be a watain-wannabe, the singers growl instead of screaming and there are many cock-sucking depressive bands. No real men anymore with pride and discipline... and strength.
Most of your releases have titles in German which is a language that not all metal fans understand… why then have Nargaroth achieved a cult status?
Cause I am with all my mistakes, with all my shit I did in the past, but also with all the music and feelings I created with NARGAROTH, very, very real.
In 2009 you released an album dedicated to the Southern American fans for giving you the strength to go on… do you think Black Metal there still has the intensity and truthfulness it had here in Europe in the early nineties?
Yes. I do believe that.
Nargaroth deals mainly with the fallible humanity. What is the weakest aspect of humanity?
Why do you consider narcissism to be the weakest aspect of humanity?
A certain level of self-esteem, self-respect and self-love are healthy and needed in life. But I mentioned malign narcissism. Its the worst form of selfishness, because the suffering is multiaxial. The people that are around such an individual suffer from his egoccentric behaviour of using others for his own benefit. But also the individual suffering from eternal and unsatisfiable hunger for attention and confirmation mixed with merciless self-contempt hidden behind a bloated image of omnipotence. Individuals like this do everything to get what they desire. They even destroy other people’s life.
Nargaroth still use corpse paint… most BM bands have stopped using it… what’s the meaning behind the corpse paint for you?
It’s an emotional, demonical tradition of BM. I am traditional.
Do you believe your attitude onstage reflects on your fans? What’s the highlight for you when it comes to live performances?
The tears in the eyes of people in the crowd when I play "Seven Tears Are Flowing To The River”.
According to you, you cannot read music notes and have no ideas on how to write or read Tabs. How did you learn how to play then? By ear or by heart?
I guess by heart, cause I still cannot catch guitar riffs by listening and replay them. When I got my guitar I started to do "things” and the results are my albums. I play emotionally and very unorthodox. By the way I am highly positive surprised how good informed you are. Very good.
Are you still obsessed with Black Metal or do you listen to any other genres?
I always listened to other things, to all that touches me in any way. But in my opinion there are only two kinds of masculine musical arts. Black Metal and traditional, rural Flamenco, especially when it's just vocals (canto) and guitar (guitarra flamenca). Both arts deal with very masculine, rudimentary topics and contain deep (male) pain and suffering.
How have you discovered Flamenco, a tradition that is so far off Black Metal? Do you have any favourite interpreter? Have you by any chance heard the Portuguese "Fado" which is a very traditional but also dark music style?
A long time ago, I watched a flamenco duo, a guitar player and an old man singing in the most touching agony I've ever seen and felt. I was told that he sung about the hard rural life, when his old mother had to walk many miles to he next city to bail him out. And he sung about a beautiful young woman that twists every young mans head and mind. But that he could see through the veil of her beauty and saw that she was born illegitimate. And if you grew up and were molded in poor rural areas as I did in the 70's of the last century, you know exactly the meaning of what he sings about and that something like 'illegitimacy' matters a lot in these societies. For example: my parents got married as soon as my mother discovered her pregnancy at the age of 18. So I can totally feel the moments when the audience start to cheer when the singer finishes a special, heavy weighted phrase of his song.
Later I discovered the female flamenco dancers and some of them have a tremendous grace. Yes, I have a favourite interpreter. He is the best in my opinion and (I think) I do feel the agony in every line he intones. His name is Manuel Agujetas. I prefer him, because he sings the oldest form of Flamenco singing that is called "Cante Jondo” and means "Inner Chant” which is much different to the more commercial, popular Flamenco Styles that developed in the 60's of the last century. One of my deepest regrets in my life is that I've never seen him performing. Not in a big venue, but in a small, cigarette-smoky and vine filled spanish tavern, masculine cheering together with all the other old men the notes of every melancholy poem. He is a very impressive performer, when he sits there in his raven-black suit, white vest and a vine bottle in his hand, his eyes closed, his face in sweat, chanting his agony.
And yes, I've heard of "Fado”, the Fate as you say. Thematically its very alike Flamenco, especially when it is about unlucky love and misery. Just the style of the singing is more smooth and harmonic than in Flamenco. I prefer the more intense, staccato-like cante of Flamenco. This kind of melancholy suits me naturally. It's like the heart bleeds directly in the open wound. My words.
In an interview you stated "There are just blind short timers, who will abandon Black Metal with the end of their adolescence”. Don’t you think maturity helps people broaden their interests?
Totally. Maturity and a special way of mental distraction is needed to become Black Metal. We have too many nerds that explore Black Metal in their adolescence and even start a Black Metal sounding project. When you close your eyes it sounds like BM, when you open your eyes you see onstage some fancy haircut boys in baggy jeans and chucks. Unacceptable for me. Worst, there are people who believe that’s BM and the cocky mainstream metal press feed this lie because with the Avantgarde bands they have this tame and all-the-way political correct slaves that they need and have never found among the REAL BM bands.
How does it make you feel knowing that you have fans crazy enough to tattoo the band’s logo or lyrics on their bodies?
You enjoy traveling… have you ever visited a place in which you found people to be more "pure” and "honest” towards themselves and the others?
On a certain level all humans are alike.
I saw an interview of you saying that you started writing poems as a teenager because you were weird… do you believe that if you were popular at school your life would be different?
I would be a gray career zombie I guess. Adapted, boring and soulless.
Being a psychologist do you ever relate to your patients? Unfortunately there are many societies in which looks have a huge impact and having long hair and being "so evil”… do your patients trust you? Don’t they tend to think you’re weirder than them? What have you "learned” about Man that you didn’t know yet? When did you find interest in such topics?
In the beginning they looked strange to me, but in 11 years I got a reputation. I am a very disciplined, strict but fair therapist. My mainly young, criminal, addicted patients highly respect me. I guess they can easily identify with me, because of my tattoos and long hair. I don't look like I am from another world, instead I look familiar to them. I am like an example because I look and am different but I’m not necessarily a loser at the bottom of society. I am a very good and competent therapist. That in the end weighs much more than looks.
The book "On the road” by Jack Kerouac and "Into the Wild” had a huge impact on you… why? Have you ever considered writing a book? What would it be about?
I already wrote books. Future books would be about being on the road (on the run maybe), travelling, being restless...its a part of me. The roaming wolf.
The books you wrote dealt with which issues? Have they been published or are you planning on doing so in the future?
The first was a small book with a collection of poems published by a small private student company. The second was unpublished and destroyed later, as I burned all in a stone pit close to the place I grew up. The album "Between the Stones” from the side project TORRENT of Akhenaten (JUDAS ISCARIOT) and me is based on that book with vulgar content. Another, very old novel, stayed unfinished somewhere in my documents.
Publishing a book? That’s what the world needs. Another waste of resources to justify the own existence. No, I am not interested. There are already too many books from too many writers. I release albums, that's punishment enough.
What upsets you the most about the media in general and music journalists in particular?
That they claim to make the rules and say the total truth. They create much bigotry and lies, but have the bigger power instrument.
Is Nargaroth your mental therapy? Where would you be mentally if Nargaroth didn’t exist? When will you stop creating music?
Kind of yes. Where would I be... I cannot say. I'll stop when I am not able to take anymore the rumours that have already affected my private life and destroyed my social life. But I still have power to fight.
Do you ever listen to your own releases? Which is the one you listen to the most?
I do. SPECTRAL VISIONS OF MENTAL WARFARE I listened most recently.
How’s your relationship with other metal musicians from your own city/country?
I don’t like to fraternize.
You are a member of the "German War Graves Commission”. How important it is to remember all the soldiers that have died fighting a war?
Yes, I am a supporter of the German War Grave Commission since the middle of the 90's and a member for some years now. In my opinion their request or rather mission is a noble and important work.
My first encounter was in the early 90's when my grandmother received a letter and started to cry. I asked my mother why she cried and she answered me that "they found her brother”. I wondered because I never heard of a brother of my Grandma and I asked myself what meant "found”. So I got told the story of the family members lost in the 2nd WW (I posted pictures of them in the booklet of the "Black Metal ist Krieg” album). I was disturbed by the fact I've never heard of them before and asked how can that happen in a family. This way I got into this topic. Along with the first TV documentaries about the "War Generation” and quite good portraits of the times then and the humans in it, I completed, or better, I corrected a picture of these soldiers, these men, fathers and sons. I grew up in the socialist GDR. Beginning in the Kindergarten I heard of gruesome fascist Germans and that the Soviet Union liberated us from these monsters. I truly grew up with this picture; and believed in it. Then, staring at family photos of these "monsters”, I saw a 17 year old boy in a too big uniform in front of a painted canvas looking as disturbed as I did when I firstly heard of him. He died shortly later when a grenade hit his armored vehicle and he burned to death at 17. In television documentaries they interviewed former German soldiers, now old Grandfathers, and I saw them crying and talking about having cried out for their mothers as they were under artillery fire. They interviewed British, American and French soldiers that cried too and survivors of concentration camps who also shed tears. And I couldn’t see a difference in their tears. All had their own hell to survive. I didn’t see the monsters anymore, I saw the humans behind it. And that part of them I wanted to remember and to respect. I never accepted war crimes or excused them in any way. But I tried to make it different than the eternal judging and blaming.
I furthermore believe that true forgiveness of crimes in war can only happen when the generations understand and respect the past. And Grave Site Care is a part of that. So I do totally support the exchange of young school classes to take care of the others Grave Sites. So Polish and Russian teenagers come to Germany and German teens go to Grave Sites in the East to take care and learn history and – maybe – grow up with forgiveness and a bit of mildness in their hearts. I hope that future generations can overcome nowadays’ prejudgments. I have to add, that what I do is not limited to German Soldiers. I am active in the same way for the M.I.A. (Missing In Action) that has the same goals but for fallen U.S. Soldiers in the Vietnam War. Therefore I also travelled in 2006 to Vietnam. You see its not a nation limited interest I work out here, it's for fallen humans in battle in general.
When you see what my intention in the involvement in the German War Grave Commission is, you can maybe imagine how angry I get to see my intention misunderstood as political rudeness. At the same time I could slap myself for the juvenile provoking way in which I wrote the lines in my first album. Cause I was responsible for laying the first step of many misinterpretations of my engagements. Maybe these lines here will help clear up a bit the haze among the considerations of NARGAROTH and the topic of the remembrance of fallen soldiers of many nations.
Would you describe yourself as a misanthrope?
More as maverick and loner.
I know that the info available on Wikipedia has brought you some personal problems. Care to elaborate on that?
You are right. The German Wikipedia article causes several problems in different areas. In one hand I lost many concerts in Germany and in Austria. On the other, in times when it’s (almost) usual to google people's names, it influences highly my private life, including losing jobs.
The controversial part in the Wikipedia article is the paragraph about the accusations regarding political attitudes in and around NARGAROTH. They base their argumentation on ambiguous written lines in my first album from 1998. I have to admit, that my lines about the German Army 1933 – 45 and the phrase "From white man, for white man”, I wrote in the juvenile provoking manner of a Black Metal debut release, include a high level of misunderstanding potential. I wanted to express my support for the noble request of the German War Graves Commission – of which I am a supporter and also a member, as written above. Regarding the mentioned "white” phrase I wanted to give some thoughts a space about experiences I made with western Black Metal contents in other cultural areas. In the early 90's I lived in Munich and introduced Polish and Norwegian Black Metal with Satanic and Celtic background to Vietnamese and Iranian People who lived in the same house I did and got shocking reactions that resulted in the destruction of the tapes I gave them to listen. So at the age of 17/18, I truly believed that cultural topics in extreme music might only be understood by people of the same culture. That’s what I wanted to express with this phrase. But I wrote it in such a provoking way that it had to be misunderstood. And yes, I wanted to provoke, but I didn’t want to be mistaken for a political herald! When I got to know how people understood it (a magazine author explained it to me in a phone call after he requested the booklet to review the album he musically liked a lot), I removed all critical contents and stopped the sale of the albums first press. So around 200 Cd’s with this mentioned booklet content got sold, the rest got destroyed and henceforth we sold the album with the new, edited booklet.
I personally have never dealt with political issues in my music or my private life. My father is a (left-winged) politician on a city level and I support him in his idea to stop criminal, political business of the powerful parties and politicians and to educate the ordinary people about what happens behind closed doors. My life reality has nothing to do with the content written in that Wikipedia article, that tries – in my eyes – to paint a merely negative image of NARGAROTH in every manner.
I would like to adapt this article to the reality without removing my past mistakes, but by including all my statements – like this one here – which I made over the last 10 years. But the authors of the article don’t take my statements into account. They consider them as lies, attempts to worm myself cowardly out and have decided to ignore my decade-long trial to get straight with my past while using quite often highly questionable unobjective sources written by clearly identifiable NARGAROTH bashers.
I have no idea why Germans have such a hard time accepting the development of my person and NARGAROTH. They gave the chance to other bands already that also have a controversial past in this matter like DARKTHRONE, DESTROYER 666, INQUISITION and even Roman from DRUDKH. Maybe I am still a thorn in their eyes cause I never socialized with the mainstream press but still made it to an international touring Black Metal band. Or maybe my attempts have been way too crippled for nowadays’ standard where regrets are written with big unnappropriate words.
You’ve often been associated with Nazism and, once again, faced major problems because of this association. What is your opinion on Nazism? How has it affected you personally?
That’s right. As written before, this allegation caused several problems in my live activity with NARGAROTH, but also in my private life.
As mentioned in the previous answer I see myself not as a political active person. I do like my country and I do support our troops abroad. I am active in different charitable institutions that feed homeless people in my country, I donate for a Kindergarten in Peru and a hospital section for children in Romania and sometimes the fee I get for my shows goes directly to special charity bank accounts. That’s my "political” involvement.
What are my thoughts about 'Nazism'? It’s a very problematic construct and conversations about it must be reasonable and careful, especially towards the German history. I see growing movements in all Europe and when grievances occur in societies we face a popularity of these movements. I do not believe in a well being within a dictatorship. I grew up in a system that was close to a dictatorship and I know how the tight regalement influences the daily life. We Germans fought hard for a basic set of rights – no matter how much they got undermined nowadays – so we should not give'em out of hands easily.
Regarding my music activity it affects me in the way I have to deal with accusations permanently. I loose concerts frequently and regarding the reality, that I am not into the politics, it's hilarious and frustrating. Especially when my musicians experience repression by their endorsement partners because they play in NARGAROTH.
NARGAROTH is no NSBM and it never was. But especially in Germany this idea, this lie is resistant like cancer. I got over the years the impression that it's not so much about if someone is really into NS or not to label him as NS related. I saw too often in the music business that bands and persons with well known NS past never had to disassociate themselves from it. And bands that never dealt with political elements appear in encyclopedias or social talks among music magnets as NSBM bands. And too often public dissociation from made mistakes regarding political mistakes or pasts doesn’t correspond with the reality seen "backstage”, if you know what I mean. I claim that maybe the designation or marking of someone or a band as NS(BM) is often used as an instrument to control and repress elements that does not want to swim with the mainstream. But this is just my point of view.
Why have you decided to help the kindergarten in Peru and a children's hospital in Romania? Did you visit and were shocked with what you saw?
I guess I have a socialist heart. I grew up in the GDR (German Democratic Republic). My whole education was socialistic. From Kindergarten until the end of school (except Highschool) we learned solidarity with the oppressed and the poor. We packed solidarity-packages for Vietnam and things like that. Well, one way or another, you can grow older, change your system of values but you cannot escape from the roots you're connected to, because they drag you. Once I saw a documentary about the Romania of Nicolae Ceaușescu called "Ceaușescu forgotten children” or so, I cannot remember exactly. After I've seen the desperate situation there I thought I had to do something. The same happened with the Peruvian Kindergarten. During my travels with NARGAROTH that led me to these countries I could see the efforts done with the help of others, yes.
But, honestly...I don’t wanna make a big thing of it. I don’t like to demonstrate such charity things too much. I have been doing it since I was a child, when I gave food to starving Soviet Soldiers. And I have done it quietly. Unfortunately I sometimes feel forced to talk about it when I see the wrong image of me painted on the internet and it hurts my principles of existence.
So Ash, how can a Black Metaller be such soft at heart?
Oh contraire... don’t get the wrong impression. I am everything but soft-hearted. I just have a socialist morality. But at the same time I could destroy a whole universe in the blink of an eye and not feel a thing.
Questions by Sónia Fonseca
Answers by Ash
Photos by Sunvemetal (www.sunvemetal.de)